Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in this country. The National Safety Council reports there are over 700 deaths and 120,000 disabling injuries per year owing to agriculture-related accidents.
Farm machinery consistently ranks first as a factor in agricultural accidents. Know the limitations of the potato harvester as well as your own limitations. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the safety features of the harvester before mounting or attempting any adjustment or repair. The potato harvester can be a dangerous piece of equipment.
A hazard is a dangerous object or situation which has the potential for injury. Both a potato harvester and working on a potato harvester fit into the category of a hazard.
Risk is the chance of injury, damage or loss. Risk of injury increases under unfavorable weather conditions and with improper behavior on the part of those involved with the potato harvest. Do your part and reduce risk to yourself and to others. Be alert, pay attention, and, above all, use common sense. The potato harvester is a powerful and unforgiving machine, not a toy. Safety should be a habit. Children should never play on or around the machine while it has the potential for motion.
Common Harvester Hazards
Each moving part of the harvester carries the potential for injury. The tractor runs much of the mechanical movement by the power-take-off (PTO) shaft, which is connected to the tractor and the harvester by universal joints or yokes. The PTO shaft must be shielded. This entails covering the shaft and the universal joints with an external, rotating shield. The most common injury on a PTO shaft occurs when the yoke catches a loose piece of clothing, entangling the wearer. The rotating shaft and yoke are very capable of catching clothing.
All hydraulic systems operate under pressure, even as much as 2,000 pounds per square inch. This is three times the pressure needed to penetrate skin. Never cover a leaking hydraulic hose with your finger; the fluid could be injected through your skin. If any fluid is injected into the skin, it must be surgically removed within a few hours or gangrene may set in. If any point in the hydraulic system fails, a serious accident can occur. A ruptured hydraulic hose can spray fluid a great distance. Fluid under pressure attempts to escape. Hydraulic systems can be considered to store energy. Careless servicing or adjusting can lead to injury.
Types of Injuries
Most injuries occur as a result of carelessness. Typically, one third of the injuries during the potato harvest involve fingers, hands, wrists and arms. Fingers account for over half the potato harvest injuries.
Injuries from a potato harvester can take a number of forms:
A pinch-type injury can occur where two parts move together and at least one of them moves in a circle. Gear and belt drives are examples of pinch points. Clothing or body parts can catch and become drawn into the gears. A person caught in a pinch point in at the mercy of a powerful, fast-moving machine.
A wrap-type injury can occur when an exposed, unshielded rotating component, such as a PTO shaft, entangles a loose piece of clothing; a sleeve, a shirttail, a frayed piece of clothing or even long hair. There is no escape from a wrap. The rotating shaft pulls you into and around the shaft in a fraction of a second. PTO shafts can quickly entangle and seriously injure even the strongest person.
Smooth PTO shafts with rust or nicks can be rough enough to catch clothing; a slowly rotating PTO shaft must be regarded with caution. However, the rounder, smoother shafts are less likely to catch clothing than square shafts. The universals at the end of the PTO shafts are the most likely to catch loose clothing and cause a wrap-type injury. These bulky parts extend beyond the PTO shaft and can cause a wrap-type injury even if you are clear of the PTO shaft.
Shear points are areas where two pieces move in a cutting motion. Shear injury can occur on a potato harvester at the boom joints, which can be raised and lowered. A finger placed in a boom joint or between a fan belt and the pulley would be quickly severed. The airhead engine, like any other engine, has moving parts which can be dangerous. The belt, turned by the engine which drives the fan, is a site for amputation as well as other bodily injuries.
Crush points occur where two objects move toward each other or one object moves toward a stationary object. A harvester backing up to an embankment has the potential to crush someone trying to clean out belts from the back of it. Block the harvester if work must be done under it. This prevents it from falling and crushing the worker. Hitching or unhitching a potato harvester can also expose a worker to a crush point and potential crush-type injury. Driving over a worker’s foot with a tractor is a possible crush injury during potato harvesting. Potential crush points exist with the bulk truck driving through the field. The wheels of the truck can crush feet or legs, or a worker could become crushed between the harvester and the truck. Obviously, the area between the harvester and the truck is a very hazardous area.
A pull-in injury occurs when a worker is pulled into machinery. Pull-in injuries can occur anytime there is an attempt to remove something from a machine while the machine is running. Obviously, this cleaning activity should never be done on an operating harvester. Even as a worker frees an entangled vine, it is conceivable that the worker could be pulled into the machine and seriously injured.
Thrown-object injuries occur when projectiles are hurled. A potato harvester, especially one equipped with an airhead, can throw soil and debris with enough force to cause eye injuries. Additionally, an object jammed in the belts can become dislodged or shattered and be hurled at a worker.
Fortunately, there is a great deal harvest workers can do to avoid accidents. Clothing can make the difference between being caught in a pinch or wrap point and being safe.
|Clothing can make the difference between being caught in a pinch or wrap point and being safe.|
Avoid clothing that is loose, dangles or flops. An unbuttoned jacket can catch in the belts and drag a worker across the sorting table. A loose sleeve can catch in a sprocket and drag the worker into the gears where severe damage can occur. Button the cuffs of long-sleeved shirts rather than leave them unbuttoned or loose and flopping. Long sleeved shirts with rolled up cuffs can flop or become unrolled and catch on moving parts. Pant legs can catch on gears in the same manner that shirt sleeves can. Avoid wearing pants that are extremely loose fitting or drag on the ground.
Loose, long hair is another risk. It can catch in wrap and pinch points and drag the worker’s head into a dangerous spot. Wear long hair securely held up. A hooded jacket or hat will add insurance that your hair will not fall down and become entangled in the machinery.
Skid-resistant shoes help keep the worker from slipping while standing in the sorting platform, which may be treacherous with mud and vines. A fall into moving parts could be disastrous.
Gloves, if worn while working on the sorting table, should be tight fitting and not have frayed edges or flopping cuffs. Loose-fitting gloves can catch in many places and pull the hand into a hazardous situation.
In addition to making wise clothing choices, there are several practices which can help prevent accidents.
|Potato harvester work is conducive to mental, as well as physical, fatigue. Frequent short breaks are superior to longer, less frequent breaks.|
Publication #: 2151
This Maine Farm Safety Fact Sheet is part of an educational fact sheet series produced by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. For more information on farm safety, contact your county Extension office.
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More